Blind student gets high-tech hat created by Robotics Team

Top hats might seem a bit old fashioned, but Oak Harbor student Levi Gonzalez is bringing them back with a high-tech twist.

On Thursday, Oak Harbor High School’s advanced Robotics Team presented Gonzalez, who is blind and autistic, with a state-of-the-art top hat.

The hat allows him to detect obstacles using ultrasonic sensors, technology not unsimilar to what bats use to navigate.

Small vibrating motors fitted inside the device receive input from sensors that provide direction and distance information to corresponding motors.

Gonzales’ mother, Cassandra Whitlatch, said she was ecstatic to hear the students on the Robotics Team were making her son the device.

Gonzales is one of two blind students attending the high school.

“I was nearly in tears,” Whitlatch said. “I am so happy and thankful for this, and for the sake of my son and his future, and the future of the blind.”

Whitlatch said she was deeply thankful to the Robotics Team.

“I just don’t think anyone is inventing any new devices to help the blind,” she said.

Robotics Team teacher Che Edoga said he formed the idea for the hat a few years ago, but it took a while to see it through to development because students come and go from the high school.

“This team carried the project across the finish line,” said Edoga.

The Robotics Team that developed the hat is composed of AJ Diamond, Tristan Boyle, Mathew Shipley, Ethan Lang and Ali Short. Together, the students said they employed skills and programs such as cadding, design, programming and engineering.

“The hardest part was definitely the programming,” said Lang. “We kept getting error messages on the computer.”

“It was really fantastic to build something to help out a classmate,” said Diamond.

The rest of the team agreed.

“A lot of research went into this project,” Short said.

Most of the items they used, except for the top hat, were purchased from Radio Shack, according to the team.

The hat came from Amazon and was selected because it’s sturdy enough to support the weight of the internal components.

The project isn’t totally completed by any means, Edoga said, adding he is planning to add to the technology by incorporating a GPS and voice commands that will help aid the blind in navigation.

Projects such as this are all made possible by levy dollars, according to Oak Harbor School District officials.

Photo by Michael Watkins/Whidbey News-Times AJ Diamond, right helps Levi Gonzalez, an 11th-grade blind and autisitic student with a special hat created by the Oak Harbor High School advanced robotics team Thursday in Oak Harbor. The hat was fitted with ultrasonic sensors that transmit information to small vibrating motors that alerts the wearer to location and distance of obstacles.

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